As Dutch delegation we were told that the Dutch Honorary Consul Juan Bosch in Paraguay made life of the union in its sugar factory very difficult. So we went there to have a look. Wim van der Jagt, one of the members of our group, wrote about that visit in the Dutch magazine Latin America, a publication of the solidarity association CLAT Netherlands (number 4, 1992).
"Thursday, June 18. After a journey of nearly two hours we arrived at the sugar factory 'Azucarera Paraguay SA' . First we had a meeting with the board of the trade union there. We spoke to one of the two fired leaders of the trade union. He told us that he had received his salary till the end of 1991 by the CNT. We promised him on the spot that our union will pay his wages for the whole year 1992. Furthermore, we gave extra money for his union. Moreover, we have made an agreement for 'adoption' of the union, so they always can turn to us for material of immaterial support. We hope by this way to force the management of the sugar factory to take serious the union. Mr. Bosch (Honorary Consul of the Netherlands in Paraguay and also one of the owners of the sugar factory), who was aware of our arrival, had agreed the day before our arrival the first collective agreement ever in his company. That would not have happened if we had not been there! "
The delegation then went with great interest of bystanders in procession to the factory. There was held a meeting with Bosch. "First Mr. Bosch criticized Jaap Kos, president of the Dienstenbond CNV, who in 1991 had brought in publicity the company. By the way Kos was at that time not permitted to visit the factory. Bosch spoke into detail on the relationship of the company with the employees. Actually, according to him, a collective agreement is completely unnecessary ..... The company was founded in 1905 and you could see it well. The little good that the company has done is donating 80 pieces of land and providing interest-free loans so that people could build their own homes. When we told him that we had adopted the union in his company, Bosch was shocked visibly! "
Upon return, the CNV Industry Union wrote an official letter to the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs about Bosch, requesting to point out Juan Bosch on its obligations and if necessary to take measures so he could not be any longer Dutch Honorary Consul.
We went to Sao Paulo, Brazil where during the last week of June 1992 the WFIW seminar was held. Meanwhile also delegations had arrived from Belgium ACV Industry and the German Christian Metal Union CGM. From Latin America trade unionists took part from host country Brazil, from Argentina and Paraguay. The Argentinian Carlos Gaitan, Secretary General of the Latin American Federation of Industry Workers FLATI, was responsible for the organisation and coordination of the seminar.
It was my first acquaintance with members of the board of the German CGM led by Chairman Siegfried Ehret. It would become the beginning of what I would call the German affair in the WCL. While CGM was a member of the World Federation of Industrial Workers WFIW and the German BranchUnion DHV member of World Federation of Clerical Workers WFCW, their confederation, the Christian Trade Union Federation of Germany CGB, was not affiliated to the WCL. One of the reasons that was buzzing around within and outside the WCL, was that members of the German Christian trade union would have a Nazi past.
Before judging I decided to see for myself what was really going on. That was not difficult. CGM chairman Siegfried Ehret invited me after some time for a visit to his organization and to meet his boardmembers. I had a frank discussion with them. I learned to know also other active members of the DHV during WFIW branche meetings and the yearly seminar for the German-speaking members of the WFIW.
Through the European Christian Miners Federation I learned to know old and new leaders of the German Christian Miners Union. The board meetings of the European Federation were held in the border region of Germany, France and Belgium. If there is one area that you could call European, it is the region that stretches from the French Alsace and Lorraine with cities like Metz and Strassbourg and the neighboring German Saarland with the city of Saarbrücken to Flemish Limburg with the city of Hasselt. Thanks to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community after World War II, the predecessor of the European Union, the miners were the first branch to be involved in the European social dialogue. Their mutual European cooperation stemmed from the obvious camaraderie that exists between miners.
It became clear to me that the rumors were completely inaccurate. Presumably they were purposely spread by circles around the German trade union IGMetall. This giant among European trade unions with millions of members conducts a war of attrition through long standing legal procedures against the CGM, that with its several hundred thousand members plays a modest role in major German car companies like Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche in Bavaria, the largest state of the Federal Republic of Germany.
It is purely a political power struggle, a union unworthy. Since 1957, the Government of the economically dynamic and rich Bavaria is in hands of the Christian Social Union CSU. The last state elections (15 September) has been won by the CSU with an absolute majority. Maybe IG Metall fears that this strong position of the CSU eventually can affect its dominant position? Anyway, instead to cooperate with the CGM for collective agreements, IG Metall prefers to make war. A deplorable mentality for a union that claims solidarity and democracy as its core values. This is not a good sign of a union from a country that let bleed Europe and even the world during World War II owing to its democratic failures.
So there was no reason that the CGB should not become a member of the WCL. Moreover, because of its budget constraints, the WCL could use well the extra contribution. I suggested CGB Chairman Peter Konstroefer, who I met during a meeting in Saarland, to talk with CNV chairman Anton Westerlaken who was also Vice-President of the WCL. At his request a meeting was foreseen on March 8, 1993 in Oisterwijk in the Netherlands instead of Brussels, that I had proposed. Unfortunately Anton Westerlaken appeared over an hour late for the appointment. That's been a bad omen. The meeting did not get any follow up and then the CGB has never joined the WCL.
I can only guess the reason for this state of affairs. IGMetall will certainly have put pressure on the Belgian ACV Metal Union and the Dutch CNV Industry Union . Both unions were already some time member of the European Metalworkers' Federation, of which IGMetall is one of the main members. The accusations on the CGM were made by some leaders of these unions as well as negative comments on CLAT in Latin America and also the WFIW. Add to this the possible pressure of the mighty German DGB trade union confederation through the ETUC into the direction of CNV and ACV. Anyway, this state of affairs made clear that the much needed expansion of the WCL without permission from major European Trade Unions was not possible unless ACV and CNV were willing to take heavy risks.
To be continued.
The above story is a personal testimony of what happened at the end of the last century and the beginning of the new millennium in the international trade union movement, in particular in CLAT and the WCL.